Wednesday, 21 October 2015

APS Upset Recovery training! Cue Extra 300!

After a few days off recovering from PT4, a few of us went to Gateway Airport (uh oh, my favourite….) to complete the upset recovery module of the course. This was a part I was really excited about; I've always wanted to have a play with an Extra300! I felt pretty confident going into it having experienced aerobatics before with the cadets.

We completed the upset recovery training with an external company called APS and spent the first morning in ground school, mostly watching videos, studying a bit of PoF and learning about their ‘PUSH,ROLL, POWER, STABILISE’ technique for unusual attitude recovery. There were 6 of us in total on the course, two guys were from the American air force and were not with the academy, the rest were members of my course. The lessons were presented by a real life astronaut, which was so cool

In the afternoon we met with our instructors (they were all ex-military fast jet pilots who did this for fun!) and went for the first flight. It was amazing! Although we took off from Gateway, it felt very familiar flying around the same desert and same practice area that we've been used to this whole time. We just went a little bit (a lot) higher and had a bit more power than the Archer gave us. The cockpit was very simplistic in the front seat (the instructor is sat behind in tandem), I had only an artificial horizon indicator and an airspeed indicator, as well as a control stick, not yoke, and throttle. We couldn't take off or land (tail dragger and I'm not about to volunteer to take off and talk to Gateway tower....) but were given control after the instructor upset the aircraft and flew to and from the practice area to get a feel of it. 

During the first lesson I got to have a nice feel of the aircraft and do a few stall recoveries, the Extra stalls fantastically! You’ll go nose high, flying along fine and then all of a sudden it’ll flip a wing and you’ll be falling out of the sky with the ground above your head. It was so cool. The Push, roll, power technique is supposedly applicable to all aircraft and most unusual situations and it worked really well to solve the problem. The moment you gave it a little push on the control stick it relieves the angle of attack on the wings and breaks the stall. It was insane how well that worked; the only think that kept popping into my mind to compare it to was that scene in Avatar where Jake and his Banshee are falling, he tells it to “shut up and fly straight” and it rights itself straight away, know the one? Same deal with the Extra apparently, give it a tiny push and it’ll settle.

I've always prided myself on my iron stomach during flight and loved every second of the lesson, we did a fair few stalls in different situation; pulled some G’s and got some inversions in. Unfortunately not all members of the group faired so well and did have to reach for the sick bag during their flights.
At the end of the day we had to go home and complete an easy test (I think we all got 100%) on what we’d learnt that day, which completes the theoretical portion of the module, leaving just 2 flights left to complete.

Another early start brought us back to Gateway the next morning and it was straight into the air for our final two lessons. It was an amazing experience and I can see the practical use of upset training but mostly it felt like a reward of all our hard work so far and gave us a chance to play with an outstanding little aircraft. As my stomach had been fine the whole time, my instructor agreed to show me some proper aerobatics at the end of the final session.  I’d always wanted to try tumbling which I’d seen at air-shows before but he showed me a fair few and joked with the ground staff that he was going to try and make me ‘black out’. He did not succeed. We did +7G to -2.5G and I felt completely fine (And sort of proud that I did the most out of all the boys).

Mission objectives:
  • Stalling
  • Usual attitude recovery
  • Startle response – He asked me to update the QNH on my attitude indicator, as I reached forward he flipped the aircraft and let go, telling me to recover. The idea being that the recovery should be quick and become second nature as in real life you may not always get a warning e.g. wake turbulence.
  • Stuck Primary controls – This was really interesting. It was seeing how you could control the aircraft if one of the three primary controls (aileron, elevator, rudder) was jammed. We tried all three out and I found the hardest to work without was the rudder.

At the end of the sessions we were given a certificate for successful completion presented in a frame with a picture and poem, none other than Cpt. John Magee’s ‘Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds….’ My dad’s favourite poem! We also received a memory stick containing the go-pro footage of our entire flight's which is definitely for learning and refreshing purposes and not to be shared on Facebook to make friends jealous back home, ahem...

After that fun interlude, it’s now on to the Seminole and the home stretch of our time in Arizona!

Friday, 2 October 2015

An introduction to holds. Cross-country qualifier and PT4!

When you get to lesson AP64, you have an ‘introduction to holding’ brief and sim. It’s fair to say I felt completely lost and couldn't recall a thing about the hold entries we learnt in Air Law. Thankfully, Bryan had a few ways to make it simple and enough patience to go through it properly with me. It made a lot more sense actually flying it than it did studying it in ground school (I've found that with quite a few of the topics we learnt now). It did, however, take quite a while to figure out the type of entry I needed to use to get into the hold and I practised a lot of these questions with my house mate. For some reason I always guess ‘direct’, but I've gotten the hang of it now and can figure it out in a second using my house mates method of placing the CDI needle on the hold axis and just looking at where the tail is, as well as Lee’s POD method. Works every time! I also drew little diagrams to stick on my knee-board to use as reference. In Air Law we learnt 3 entries, there are 5 according to Oxford, I can see why but at the moment it just needs more to learn. 

The standards for PT4 are to get the holds within +/- 12 seconds of 3 minutes which is easy in null wind conditions but a little trickier if you have to correct for the wind. Luckily, we had lots of practice flights doing these and in real life it’s rarely calm, especially in the turbulent desert air. There are only two holds we do out here; Stanfield and Buckeye, we practice with them so it’s a bit of a head start for the PT and also gets us used to using the approach plates which, upon first glance, looks like a different language, with practice they do become easier to read though, I promise. The Casa Grande (Stanfield) approach is quite a simple one and the easiest way to do everything correctly is to brief the approach early and set up the cockpit beforehand so you only have to fly the plane (not fuss about setting minimums or frequencies last minute). Again, the RT takes a little getting used to but I'm a lot less nervous speaking now. 

The sims were always good fun and really good at getting used to the theory, briefing and plates with a few surprise emergencies thrown in and ‘moderate turbulence’ given by Bryan grabbing the back of my seat. He was due to take leave so decided he’d squeeze me and Josh in with quite a few flights that week to get us ready to take our test during his time off instead of having a long break. This meant more early starts and double lessons, which does get so tiring after a couple of days.

I also completed my Cross-country qualifier. This is a necessity for gaining a license, and includes a landing at Ryan then Goodyear before arriving back at Falcon, the trip is approximately 420nm and took 5 hours. The navigation is important and it’s important to stick with your due back time, however at this stage I knew the area so well it’s more a case of pointing the nose on my turning points and then relaxing, talking on the practice area frequency with my course mates and tuning in Disney FM on the ADF. I really enjoyed myself, though it was tiring and nearly unbearably hot in the cockpit; I was even starting to feel nostalgic that I didn't have many Archer flights remaining, I love how confident I felt with the plane, feeling I could do anything with it and it’s such a huge jump from how I felt only a few months before. I feel like a real pilot and I'm proud of myself.

PT4 time! I had a few days off  before the test but I felt pretty confident going into it, which was a first. I was with Amanda again and as I’d already flown with her before she gave me the option of Buckeye or Stanfield and said we could have a practice landing at one first before doing the assessed hold. I picked Buckeye for the hold as I preferred the circle-to-land approach and generally it tends to be a bit quieter (less radio for me!) than the Stanfield VOR which is always incredibly busy in the afternoon. I did the hold and approach to Stanfield pretty well, it was one of the best holds I’d ever flown so I was happy. 

We then didn't have time to get all the way over to Buckeye so created a GPS way point over Maricopa Mountain to simulate the Buckeye VOR and did the hold and approach over that instead. Maybe not the best idea as I got an up-draft from the thermal coming off the little mountain on every ‘inbound’ leg of the hold. On the whole it went pretty well; on the way back we did the Chandler arrival which I had to amend slightly to avoid traffic who thought they’d cut a corner on the approach. Not naming any names but I know exactly who it was and of course let them know back on the ground. Amanda was joking about it, saying they thought they could get away with it because there were two women flying.  The test couldn't have gone better, meaning I was finished with the Archer (apart from one last solo navigation) and ready to gain another engine and start my Seminole flying! I was also the first in my class to take PT4 so one up for the girls!

I had another few days off after that which felt so good to chill out and catch up on sleep from all the early mornings. Josh took his test the day after mine so we mostly stayed in, watched Sherlock and played Call of Duty, it’s too hot to even go and stay by the pool for too long and most other people were still in school.

As it was 4th of July which is a huge deal in America we were doing the most American thing possible and going to a Diamondbacks baseball game. We wore red, white and blue and decided we’d learn the national anthem so we could sing a long at the opening of the game. I’d been to a baseball game before in Chicago but this one was a lot more fun, probably due to the occasion (and the fact that I'm over 21 this time!). Diamondbacks won! After the game the stadium roof opened up and we could see the fireworks display over Phoenix, it was a great night and I was very glad I didn't have to get up early the next morning as Oskar did.